4/29/12

Cooky Cat Carrot Cat
Michele's Carrot Cake


When our friends David and Michele lived in Arizona they were members of the Scottsdale Community Garden Club. Eight acres on the grounds of the Scottsdale Community College, which is leased from the Pima Indian Reservation.

At the monthly garden club meetings there was a "hospitality" table with fresh brewed coffee and donated baked goods brought from home by the members. Michele was in charge of that and she would also bake a specialty or two every time. One of the favorites was this carrot cake.

This carrot cake has some secret ingredients that add a lot of interest; specifically, dates, pineapple, and pecans. We guarantee this is a tried and true crowd pleaser.

Michele's Carrot Cake


For the batter:

Mix together . . . (then set aside)

     2  1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
     2 tsp. Baking Soda
     1 tsp. Ground Cinnamon
     1 tsp. Ground Ginger
     1/2 tsp. Salt

Mix together . . . (Separately)

     1 cup finely chopped Dates (to the size of raisins)
          TIP: Chop dates in food processor, but toss with 1/2 cup from above portion of flour to prevent clumping.
     1 1/2 Cups finely grated Carrots
     1 Cup medium chopped Pecans
     1 Cup / 8 oz. can  Crushed Pineapple (drained well)

Blend together . . .

First 
     3/4 Cups neutral flavor Vegetable Oil
     2 Cups firmly packed Light Brown Sugar

Next Add
     4 Egg Yolks, one at a time

After well combined, incorporate
     1 tsp. Vanilla

Next add
     Flour Mixture, alternating small portions with
     1 Cup Buttermilk in small portions

Stir in
     Carrot/Date/Pineapple/Pecan mixture

Beat
     4 Egg Whites to stiff peaks

Fold egg whites into the batter

Divide Completed Batter
     3 - 9" Round Baking Pans

Bake
     Preheated 350° F. Oven
     25 - 30 Minutes (or longer, until inserted knife draws out cleanly)


For the Icing:

Beat together . . .
     8 oz. Plain Cream Cheese (1 standard package)
     1/4 lb. (1 stick) good Unsalted/Sweet Butter (softened)

Next add . . .  
1 Cup Confectioners Sugar

Stir in . . .    
     1/2 Cup Crushed Pineapple (drained well)
     1 Cup Chopped Pecans (small)

Completion:

After cake is cooled . . .
Spread frosting (lightly) between layers and outside, top and sides






Cooky Cat Dinnerware
Cooky Cat Dinnerware
(This Cat Integrates and Synergizes!)


Who doesn't have a fantasy of owning a restaurant. Owning, as opposed to running the thing on a day to day basis. The former is the dream. The latter, as in the reality, is a grind by any measure and is best left to those steeped in working in food service since day one or those who simply MUST do their own thang. We'll leave the whole matter in the realm of fantasy.

Our friend David Wronski imagines a "Dave's Chuck Wagon" some day. We are thinking our place would be "Cooky Cat's." It's sort of like, "Joe's" or "Tom's Lunch." Simple and direct. No marketing spin. The name says it all. OK, maybe not now, but Lawrence Welk didn't start out as a big name either. Give it time. You can say you knew Cooky Cat, when.

Naming a fantasy restaurant is our favorite sport. But, we are totally turned off by any restaurant name with the word "Cuisine" in it. "All You Can Eat" probably tops the won't-ever-go-in-there list. Or, "Ristorante." OK, we get it, it's upscale Itralian. Or, is it? It just as easily could be merely a set of letters outside on the awning, and the guys in the kitchen are wage slaves grinding it out from some written recipe instructions. Or, any restaurant with some cutsey-poo or concocted name that is supposed to conjure dramatic nostalgic associations. Like, "Mother's Kitchen." We wouldn't name the place that unless there was a real mother cooking the kitchen; and, we don't mean some gravel gurdy who happens to be a mother so it passes on "legal" grounds. As in, "Hey, you call this mother's cooking?" "Well, sir, it was cooked by a mother." There are mothers and there are mothers.

Buffalo China, (Working People Series, 1976-1987) by Milton Rogovin (1909-)

That was a small diversionary rant. This is really about plates, folks. You know those china plates you can still see at some die-hard diners? Heavy (as in HEAVY DUTY) thick tableware designed for years of service and tough enough to take rough handling. The kind of plates that when you warm them they stay warm. You know, bone white with a thin color stripe in blue, green, or red; or beige (you say "beige", we say "ecru") with a chocolate brown stripe. Also, sometimes customized with the restaurant's name or with a proprietary logo. Made in the U.S.A. by such names as Shenango and Buffalo. One look at that stuff and you get a sense of what "Made in America" really means: sturdy, direct, funtional, lasting. At least, that's what it used to mean.




Cooky Cat has his own thoughts about what his tableware for his dream restaurant would look like. Now don't let's all get worked up and start sending requests the way you did for that other thing. It's just for the restaurant, so you would have to steal some to get your own. But, it's just a fantasy, remember, so wake up and smell the coffee.

Maybe a nice piece of sour cherry pie with a lattice crust served on any one (it'll be a surprise after you've finished the pie) of Cooky Cat's exclusive designs.







4/25/12

Borlengo
click above for Wikipedia description

(With a Vegetarian Twist)


This updates the original article below with details on the 2012 festival. Notice the comment from Dear Marcella Hazan way down below regarding our suggestion for the vegetarian twist. De gustibus . . .
_____________________________________________________

Not far from our villa in Guiglia, Emilia Romagna, Italia every year in early May we look forward to the Springtime Borlengo festival.

Here is the flyer for this year’s must-be-there event. (Martha Stewart is a regular. She usually stays with us in the guest house.)

The flyer says it all as far as describing what it is. Usually, the traditional topping is a mixture of Olive Oil/Lard, Pancetta and/or smoked Bacon, Garlic, Rosemary, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (per Mario Batali: “The undisputed king of Cheeses.”).
Some of our readers are confirmed vegetarians. (If you are a Catholic and had your Confirmation, and you are a vegetarian, then you would be a Confirmed, confirmed vegetarian.) If you are all that and have papers to prove it, then you would be… well, the permutations could get as shaggy as you like.
Lest we digress. If you don’t want to have the Pancetta or Bacon, then here’s the ticket. Leave it out! Oh, I want to go the whole route, you say? You have an option.
Well, here is the secret ingredient: Tempeh. It might not be on the culinary map of even some staunch vegetarians. Yet. But, it should be. Tempeh is a rich in protein food made with fermented soybeans. It is delicious simply steamed and mixed together with vegetables and a pasta. But we have a little trick that makes it a flavorful garnish for salads; and, now, for Borlengo.
Tempeh is available at most healthy food stores. You’ll find it in the refrigerated section around where there is dairy and tofu. It comes in a rectangular loaf about 1” thick and 4”x 7”.
Do this: First, cut the Tempeh loaf in half across the middle of its length. Positioning the cut half carefully on its edge, slice it down the middle so you get a piece ½” thick. Now, sauté each side until nicely brown. While it is still hot from the pan, douse it in good soy sauce***.) Then cut it into thin strips for salads as “bacon” bits (how come all those vegetarians are always looking for stuff that tastes like meat, but isn’t?)

***Soy Sauce is not all created equal. This is a bit about Italian food so we won’t go into an encyclopedic riff on Soy Sauce/Tamari. Just let’s leave it for now that you gets what you pays for when it comes to soy sauce. Just like Mr. Batali reserves the best Olive Oil for “anointing”, get some really pricey soy sauce for the table and be amazed at the richness and complexities. Umami! (Translated into the Italian: "Mama Mia!")

For your Borlengo just crumble up the Tamaried-up Tempeh and sprinkle a small amount on with the other elements.
Now to make the Borlengo. A picture is worth a thousand words. Here is our mentor David Wronski hard at work in the kitchen with his famous Borlengo.

And now watch a master at work.

THIS JUST IN — per Marcella Hazan: "Forget about Tempeh, please." Ouch! We get the point. The suggestion of Tempeh was for only the die hard vegetarian; and, only if they must have some protein on their Borlengo. We concur, best to leave it out. The taste and texture of Tempeh are way off from what Borlengo is all about. Thank you, Ms. Hazan.

Ms. Hazan also recommends: "[Borlengo is in] the same group of Emilia's specialties that includes Tigelle and Gnocco Fritto."

Tigelle: Click to read a great article on Tigelle.

Gnocco Fritto: Click for Gnocco Fritto.

4/22/12

Artisanal ... Not


The gloves are off for this one, deary.

It seems that trends in foods come and go pretty fast. Just saw a commercial for Duncan Donuts "Artisanal" Bagels.

Artisanal? Right. We can just imagine a marketing meeting where the boss says, "How in the hell are we gonna sell that crap?" And an up and coming junior marketing executive exclaims, "Let's call them 'Artisanal.'" Cooky Cat caught the very fly from that wall and ate it. That evening he dreamed the foregoing scenario. So you know it's for shizlle my culinarizlle.

Seems "Artisanal" is in. So in that, with us, it's out. So "in" that a very bland below the middle of the road product can be upmarketed just by tagging on the word. Or, some earnest aesthete in a trendy Brooklyn neighborhood (or, London), cooking jam and charging $10 for it. But, you say, the jar is a Wech and the label is just so CUTE! You say Wech, we say Wack. Eh! Or, yet another pizza guy with a starter from the Middle Ages, an exclusive contract to get Giuseppe Italiano's hand ground Tuscan valley heirloom organic wheat, and Mozzarella from albino water buffaloes whose udders are hand massaged every evening by lovely Itralian virgins to the music of that other Giuseppe, Verdi. Don't let us even get started on the kind of olive oil a place like that might be touting. Even Rachel Ray's "EVOO" is starting to sound comforting.

TAKE THIS PLEDGE: Repeat after me . . . I will never eat or purchase or patronize anything or place that has "Artisanal" attached to it.

If you need some motivation, given that "Artisanal" is all that and you probably want to be seen as cutting edge and all that yourself, here's something to conjure in your mind's eye whenever you hear "artisanal" mentioned. A line of specialty cheeses made in Williamsberg, Brooklyn with the breast milk of new Hasidic mothers. Hip AND Kosher.

Here's the on to clinch the deal: Cooky Cat's fresh juicy hair ball. Now that's artisanal!

Sorry for the gross outs. Tough love. You gotta be cruel to be kind.



The
Absolutely
Positively
Last and Definitive Word
on
"NUTMEG!"

Hauntingly Refreshing


Forget "Curiously Refreshing." Leave that to the days when Commander Whitehead was on every television screen touting Schweppes Tonic Water.

(FYI: Commander Edward Whitehead (1908 – 1978) was a British Royal Navy officer, a veteran of the South Pacific campaign, and at one time the President of Schweppes (USA). He is better known as an advertising representative of Schweppes in a campaign created by Ogilvy&Mather Agency in 1955 which ran through the 1960s.)

It's the new century and Cooky Cat is all up into the mystery of things. Also, it happens to be G&T weather. Gin and Tonic, darling, if we have to spell it out.

Here are the quintessential ingredients to give your G&T a most haunting deliciousness. First, let's step up tonic-wise. Top of the line, Fever-Tree Tonic Water. (Tops in price too.)

If you're wondering about the Gin, well we leave it to you. Our Botanist from Islay is too precious for anything other than neat or in a very dry martini. Bombay or Beefeaters will do the trick. A friend suggests Hendricks, but that too is rather nicey and pricey; best savored on its own, as with the aforementioned Botanist.

Now that you've upped your G&T game with the Fever-Tree Tonic, let's consider two additions to get the haunting going spookafragistically.

Either or, but never both: Stirrings Blood Orange Bitters or St. Germain Liqueur crafted with hand gathered elder flowers. The fourth taste that either one of these will contribute to your G&T will raise your refreshing beverage to a level that is, as they say, something completely different.

Just don't put in too much, just enough so you can get a hint of a taste of it in there without being able to put your finger on it. (Like a ghost, get it; "haunting".) Or, like the inestimable Ms. Julia Child would admonish about overdoing the nutmeg: "You don't want so much that people can say, 'Nutmeg!'"





4/16/12

Hey, Mister! Coffee?


Recently we spied a commercial for Maxwell House coffee touting drip filter method coffee. Interesting that the bogey man in that spot is French Press.

It may not be about a bogey man either. It's possible that the good folks at Procter & Gamble have the idea to "hitchhike" their top selling brand onto au courant references to trendy brewing methods, drip process and the French Press. Who knows? And what about the casting. Todd Stashwick? He's a great actor, but somewhat rather too associated in our mind with some real heavy characters. Julie Andrews, he ain't. Maybe P&G is going for arrested attention? If someone from their marketing department cares to comment. Drop down, fella, and give us one!

When David Wronski was in marketing communications he retold to us how he was assigned to the Chase & Sanborn coffee account, then a product of Standard Brands. Chase & Sanborn at one time had been a big brand on the retail shelf, sponsoring the likes of Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy and later Kate Smith. By the time Wronski came into the picture Chase & Sanborn had been let to slip its market share and was pretty much a cash cow. The term "cash cow" is a brand that is let to ride on its former glory with little or no promotional investment. But, we digress.

Part of the drill entering into the coffee business was to spend a day with the Colombian Coffee Bureau then in downtown Manhattan. Besides Coffee A-Z a big take away was the experts touting the superiority of the drip method.

When he got back to the office the first thing David did was call his client to discuss how the folks in the know were recommending drip coffee. The facts however, per the client, "But peculator sales are trending up." In other words, no one was going to invest in promoting a method as such, especially since the budget for the brand was already kept just low enough to keep the Sales Department and the Retail Trade happy that there was marketing investment in the brand to ensure that there would be adequate retail take away to justify shelf space. 

Net, net, if you can find Chase & Sanborn brand coffee on the shelf, good luck. As the commodity brands go, it's not a bad product. We ourselves buy custom roast, organic.

The point of the piece (Finally!) is about how someone integrated all that information drip method/better, percolators/appliance — and came up with Mr. Coffee. This is a good example of structural thinking. The key was to see the issue in terms of the attraction for "appliance" not for percolators as such. Of course there is the built in resistance to scrap the old unit, but look at the electronic gadget market and you see just how easily the public can be moved to get the next new thing.


Mr. Coffee was a revolution. Now, if you want an appliance just try to find a peculator. They're all based in one way or another on some kind of drip process.

Not quite sure why Maxwell House is making the drip case over press. Just something to say probably. That's marketing for you. If you don't have a claim to make for your product, invent a distraction or surround it with some positive, trendy associations. ("Coke adds life," don't you know.) 

4/14/12

Hey, Baby, Nice Batido You Got There!


Lest you be off put by the intended veiled salaciousness of the innuendo in the title to this article . . . simmer-down-nah! And if you don't want to do that, then . . . pipe-down-nah!

A Batido is what you get in Miami when you want a cool drink that is fruity and energizing.

A Batido as dispensed in little joints all over that sizzling town is a blended drink with a choice of one of many tropical and other fruits, milk, and ice,  sweetened with sugar, all zipped together in a blender. For those who want Batido chapter and verse click on this. And, while you're waiting for your Batido, throw a few shekels down for a little thimble full of sweetened fresh made espresso. Cuba Libre!

So to put it simply, a Batido is like a milk shake. The ice in the blender cools it way down. Ice, that is if you are using fresh fruit not frozen, or want to thin the Batido down a bit. Alright, and it's just like a smoothie, but for the addition of milk.

But Cooky Cat is not about to be telling you the academics of Batidos. Just trying to do the research to include the definitive list of tropical fruits, frankly drove him fruity. Go Google, fella. And, besides, who the heck is reading this stuff anyway. It's not like Oprah and her gang are hanging on Cooky Cat's every word. (Yet!) He be telling about wherefore art thou going to fetch those fruits. Expecially, those tropical varieties. No need to be going down to Rio with Fred and Ginger and the gang. Just scoot over to any store that merchandizes Hispanic products. Find the frozen section and for a few bucks or so each get 14 ounce packages of any number of frozen tropical fruit pulps. We are suggesting frozen fruits since the more exotic types are not always or usually available as fresh.

Besides, with the packaged varieties the work is done for you. All you have to do is place a half of a package (7 ounces or so) broken into small pieces into a typical size blender, add milk to three quarters full, 4-5 teaspoons of cane sugar, and blend. Notice we did not add ice. Well, silly, because the fruta is frozen. Capicé , Italiane? Alright, do it like in Miami, add some ice. It will be a little thinner which is fine. Commercially, the ice keeps the costs down. (Like at the movie house when you get that fountain soda and the cup is loaded first with ice. Our workaround, tell them no, or little ice. The stuff comes out cold to begin with. But, then again, we are not recommending any soft drink or any other drink, or foodstuff for that matter, that is loaded with high-fructose corn syrup. That stuff doesn't register in your system the same way good old fashioned cane sugar do. So you drink and drink; and over time you're as big as a house. And also, cane sugar, please. That beet sugar don't have the taste. Or, it has a taste Cooky Cat don't like. Have you ever driven through a town in the USA where sugar beets are processed for sugar? Second on the yuck scale to being down wind from a cattle holding facility.)

Excuse the digression. If you are a Cooky Cat kind of person you will appreciate the extras. So, you're welcome.

Of course, fresh is best. And, besides, if you go fresh then any number of other fruits are fair game. Your taste dictates.

Tropical Fruit of the Moment: Passion Fruit (Parcha / Maracuya)


Other Things to Try to Add Passion. . . Fruit

Besides in a Batido, you can please your parched pucker upper with a Parcha Caipirinha. Stress the "p" in there and say "k-eye-PER-eenya" to get the most alliterative action at all. Just muddle 2-3 ice cube size chunks of passion fruit pulp with two teaspoons of cane sugar in the bottom of a sturdy medium size glass tumbler (Cooky Cat prefers the Waterford Crystal 12 ounce "Lismore" Double Old Fashioned Glass; or nothing). Fill with cracked ice, then finish with a couple of shots of any old Cachaça you have laying around the bar. Saúde!

Attention: Cooky Cat has sometimes been accused of irrelevancies. Au contraire, mon ami! He expects that his missives will get a close reading. Each and every one! When you do your due diligence to his beneficent and munificent utterances, then you will have a firm grasp of the obvious as to how the pieces fit together to make a whole. As one has said, there are many cooks (who can put things together), but few chefs (who can make them work; nay, dance together.) Herr Cat is all too obviously one of the latter; in the kitchen and on the page.

Behold . . .



Obviously, there is a bit of a Brazilero vibe in the foregoing. Yes, Cooky Cat considers himself to be a true Carioca. So, to keep the party going . . .

4/10/12

CRUMMY?
NO, CRUMBY!


First off, who the heck decided to spell it like that. We are writing an article about using bread crumbs, and keeping to the spelling is becoming rather a pain with all the ancillary texting that has to go on to get every freaking detail of this piece in perfect order. Yuck! Crumb bummer. Is it "crummy" or "crumby"?

Never mind.

David Wronski was waxing wistful over how his mother very often in the summer months would brown cracker meal or bread crumbs in butter with some light seasoning and toss into steamed green beans or yellow wax beans. (He grew up in an era when you got things only on a seasonal basis. And, fresh from the farm; as in, fresh. As opposed to now, when you can have a strawberry or asparagus any time of year shipped in from all points on the globe and stored for who knows how long. Just to name a few of the more obvious seasonal produce items.)

Mrs. Wronski also was famous for steaming a whole cauliflower head (removing most of the core to speed cooking) and then coating the whole thing with browned cracker meal. Served it at table portioning it with a large serving spoon.

So what you have just read should be enough for you to go and do it yourself.

Bread crumbs or cracker meal browned in butter is exactly what it sounds like. From that basic platform you can go on to all manner of variations. An additon of grated cheese is definitely one to try. And, perhaps some caramelized onion slivers. Try this with steamed Brussels sprouts or cubes of some firm winter squash. Summer squash too, come to think of it. And, if you want to really knock it out of the park, Panko (now available everywhere).

Here is the definitive exegesis on all crumby things.

4/9/12

Quite Possibly the Very Best Condiment of All


We won't belabor the point. Just to let you know that grated prepared fresh horseradish mixed together with grated or rubbed beets 1:2 proportion is a flavor marriage that goes back way into the mists of prerecorded history.

Buy some of each and mix together at home. Proportion according to taste.

Try a heaping dollop on a half of a hard cooked egg. It's the gateway to the world of beets and horseradish. 

More On Glacé Fruits

GINGER And MORE


We kicked off the subject previously with glacé pineapple chunks. Those we keep in a jar with the heavy syrup and use over ice cream and yogurt desserts. Or, just as a quick treat for this hard working kitty.

The latest venture is glacé ginger. Same recipe as before (Click here for the 22 day express version recipe previously posted. Recipe also repeated at end of this article. Don't be deterred with the time required, it's mostly sitting around time; the fruit that is.)

With the glacé ginger, after the requisite number of days marinating in ever increasingly heavy sugar syrup, we drained the little pungent morsels and tossed them in cane sugar. Now we have a nice large jar for eating like candy and for ginger snap cookies and adding to mama's fruit cake. Online we even saw a mention of ginger mashed potatoes. Make that sweet potatoes for this Cat.

Check online and you will see that crystallized ginger is a high ticket item. You would do well economically and quality-wise to make your own.

A bonus from the ginger treatment is that we got almost a quart of heavy sweet ginger syrup. Just 2 tablespoons for a large 12 ounce glass filled with seltzer and you have a very refreshing beverage. Perhaps a basis for a custom cocktail; thinking a flavorful rum might be a good partnering.

Next stop on the glacé trail will be apricots. We're watching the markets to be there when the first of the crop shows up. We can see it now. A quick dip in boiling water, remove skins, cut in half. Proceed as per recipe.

After that, cherries!

And, after those obvious firsts, maybe pears, figs, angelica (probably the most rare and exotic since it is not something you stop in at the A&P to pick up; you need a garden or a friendly farmer), citron, kumquats, plums, and prunes.

Note: Depending on the type of fruit, the more tender the less simmering in syrup at the beginning stage. After that, just to bring the syrup itself to the boil then place the fruit back to marinate.

Glacé Fruits Recipe

Ingredients:

1 pound of fruit

4-1/2 cups of sugar

1/2 cup of corn syrup

Instructions:

Prepare the fruit: Pit cherries and prick them with a pin to allow the syrup to penetrate the skin; peel core and quarter or slice apples, apricots, plums, pears, peaches; peel and core pineapple and cut it into rings or cubes; slice citrus fruits thinly (no need to peel them).

Place the fruit in the bottom of a saucepan, cover with water, and simmer gently until almost tender. Cook the fruit in batches, if necessary. Lift the fruit out with a slotted spoon and place in a shallow dish. Pour out all but 1 cup of the cooking water (or add enough to make 1 cup), add 1/2 cup of sugar and the corn syrup. Heat it to dissolve the sugar, bring to a boil, and pour over the fruit to cover. Leave it overnight.

Next day, pour the syrup into a pan, add a half-cup of sugar, heat to dissolve, bring to a boil, pour over the fruit and leave overnight. Repeat again for the next five days. On the next day, pour the syrup into a pan, add the half-cup of sugar, and boil, then reduce the heat, add the fruit and cook gently for three minutes. Pour the fruit and syrup into the dish and leave it to soak for two days. Repeat once more. At this point, the syrup should look like runny honey. Leave the fruit to soak for 10 days to three weeks and take a vacation!
At the end of the soaking period, remove the fruit from the syrup and arrange it on a wire rack over a tray. Dry in a warm place, in the oven at the lowest setting, or in a dehydrator until the surface no longer feels sticky.
If you haven’t done enough work by this point, you can also plunge each piece of fruit into boiling water for an instant and roll it in granulated sugar to coat the surface. Store in an airtight canister, tin, or jar in a cool, dark place.

4/1/12

Food Health
Mark Bitman writes . . .

10|25|11

I’ve known George Faison for 25 years or more; he was a co-founder of D’Artagnan and is now a co-owner of Debragga and Spitler, a New York meat wholesaler that’s been doing business since 1924, and a main supplier to many of the city’s best restaurants. This is a letter George sent late last week to a well-known chef, and one he’ll be sending to others. (It’s worth noting, if for no other reason than to answer the inevitable question, which I asked myself, that George doesn’t only sell naturally-raised meats – he sells industrially-produced stuff as well. But he’s on a campaign to persuade the chefs who insist that’s what they want to change their minds, and I know he’d like to supply only the right stuff.) I’ve changed nothing except misspellings.